Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

Intro

Spending a Wednesday night in a theater of predominantly senior citizens watching short films for four hours straight is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but for two cinema enthusiasts, an evening could not be better spent. After viewing the 10 Oscar nominees for animated and live-action short films at West Chester’s Uptown Knauer Performing Arts Center, here are our top picks and predictions for the two categories.

Animated Shorts

Our Top Picks:

Carlo: “Ninety-Five Senses” (2022), unlike this category’s other nominees, lures you in with a sense of optimism, even whimsicality. An old, curmudgeonly man’s twangy narration explains the importance of the five human senses as wonderfully-crafted animation sets up an equally enthusiastic tone. As may be expected for an Oscar nominee, however, not everything in this short is sunshine and rainbows, so to speak. “Ninety-Five Senses” cleverly pulls the rug out from underneath you in the most morbid fashion imaginable, and it quickly becomes clear that this is far from a light-hearted tale. The masterfully-produced short wastes no time as it explores themes surrounding memory, death and regret. As a framing device, use of the five senses to tell the story is an ingenious way to communicate the plot and ideas at an instantly empathetic, human level. “Ninety-Five Senses” is a deeply enjoyable yet introspective short to experience this Oscar season.  

Olivia: “Pachyderme, an 11-minute film by French director Stephanie Clement, instantly caught my eye as the most visually enchanting of the nominated short films. Set amongst a backdrop of impressionistic, watercolor-like fields and riverbeds in hues of calming yellows and blues, we meet a young girl — Louise — visiting her grandparents during the summer. The girl’s soft, deliberate movements and the smooth French narration over gentle sounds of creaking steps and flowing water only contribute to the tranquility that washes over viewers. Everything about the animation projects a life of simple perfection, which is exactly where the film turns the knife. Through subtle-yet-poignant imagery, realization slowly dawns on the viewer that “Pachydermeis a story of survival and neglect as Louise wades through the trauma of her youth.

Our Prediction:

As individuals with admittedly little exposure to the world of short films, yet a deep respect for cinematic artistry, we do not believe we are alone in saying that “Letter to a Pig is truly one of the most innovative short films of its time. Director Tal Kantor presents an emotional and vulnerable scene at the film’s opening: a Holocaust survivor reading aloud a letter to a class of snickering students about a pig that the man considers to have saved his life. Despite the deeply personal and thought-provoking theme — which the film admittedly evades at times — the animation itself is where this film truly shines. Abstract doodles and shading come to life, mixed creatively with snippets of real-life photographs, such as weathered, wrinkled hands and timid eyes. One of the most stand-out shots is a visual of real, human eyes disguised beneath an overlay of paint streaks, resembling a young child hidden amongst a hay bale. It’s this mixing of media that creates a truly distinct viewing experience, making the survivor’s story grounded yet impactful. The film’s black-and-white coloring — with occasional splashes of pink — makes it even more tense, starkly contrasting scenes, from a dingy, shadowy household to blinding, snowy woods.

Live Action

Our Top Picks:

Carlo: Rarely would you expect a Scandinavian short film about death and grieving to be one of the most humorous and uplifting viewing experiences of the year, but “Knight of Fortune” (2022) effortlessly defies expectation. Although the film is shot in harsh angles, colored in drab shades and takes place in a cold morgue, its human aspect shines through brilliantly, thanks to clever and engaging writing. Sobering as the short’s presentation may be, it seamlessly dives into the realm of absurdity, navigating human notions of death with a refreshingly approachable and light-hearted nuance. Karl and Torben, the two main characters of this story, serve as relatable vehicles for the themes at play. In their grief, these two very different men find that their lives did not end when their beloved spouses’ did. Instead, they realize that a celebration of the people they love is a far better way to cope with loss than dismal, solitary grief. I cannot say that I expected two old Scandinavian men to deliver one of this past year’s greatest bromances, but “Knight of Fortune” has managed to do just that, all while investigating the profound truths of death and grief.

Olivia: “Red, White and Blue” (2023), a 23-minute short film produced out of the U.S., is a powerful critique of post-Dobbs v. Jackson America that encourages viewers to look beyond their own lived experiences. Director Nazrin Choudhury offers viewers a glimpse into working-class America with the story of Rachel, a waitress keeping her family afloat from paycheck to paycheck. Throughout the film, viewers witness a mother just trying to do her best. In various circumstances, Rachel copes with providing her children with what they want — attending a pancake breakfast at school or riding a carousel at the fair — but the real kicker comes when she struggles with providing her children with what they need. A single mother of two young children, Rachel faces a possibly life-altering obstacle at the onset of the film — an unexpected pregnancy within her family that could change the course of her childrens’ lives. The pacing of the film, from Rachel discovering the pregnancy to her travels to receive an abortion, highlights the many barriers to receiving quality healthcare in America, including unimaginably long waitlists and steep expenses. And these barriers exist for the people who need the care most — because if there’s one thing to know about this film, it’s that Rachel is not the one in need of the healthcare.

Our Prediction:

“The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” (2023) is, simply put, the work of an auteur firing on all cylinders. This is typical Wes Anderson fare, in the sense that gorgeous visuals and cinematography meld seamlessly with quirky storytelling and one-of-a-kind performances. Functioning as a story within a story within a story, this unique short is weird in all the right ways. Shot as if it were a stage production, sets are wheeled in, props are handed over from off-screen and costume changes occur in the middle of monologues. Anderson manages to tell a compelling and fun story not despite these creative decisions, but precisely because of them. Wielding his signature cinematographic style, Anderson portrays the world of this Roald Dahl short story in a deeply loving and reverent fashion. Colors are warm yet vibrant, and the extravagantly-detailed, painted-on stage backgrounds are beautiful to look at. Benedict Cumberbatch, Dev Patel and Ralph Fiennes are all on their absolute A-game, delivering performances that are simultaneously empathetic, humorous, and stylistic. In plain terms, the inclusion of such a masterful film in this category is almost unfair to the other nominees. We’ll be quite surprised if Wes Anderson’s most recent outing doesn’t claim the Academy Award.

 


Olivia Schlinkman is a third-year Political Science major with minors in Journalism and Spanish. OS969352@wcupa.edu

Carlo Constantine is a second-year Political Science major. CC1031591@wcupa.edu

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